Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Exploring family through art: Block holds talk on photo in ‘Crying in H Mart’ collection

Joanne Haner
The photograph featured in Thursday’s talk is part of a virtual “Crying in H Mart” collection from the Block Museum.

The Block Museum held a virtual talk Thursday on Roland L. Freeman’s photograph “Combing Hair, Amoke Alayoe and Her Children, Silver Spring, Maryland, June 1978,” which explores love, family, identity and grief.

These themes parallel those presented in this year’s One Book One Northwestern selection, “Crying in H Mart” by Japanese Breakfast lead singer Michelle Zauner. Freeman’s photo is part of a Block collection inspired by the 2021 memoir.

Isabella Ko, engagement coordinator at the Block, led the talk, where she discussed the role of art in portraying family relationships and daily routines. Ko paralleled Zauner’s exploration of her complicated relationship with her late mother with Freeman’s snapshots of Black life.

“(Freeman is) also able to extend those memories, extend this knowledge, of different cultural traditions and communities,” Ko said. “It’s not just about the life of an individual but also the life of a community and the vibrant life of a culture.”

Freeman took the photograph as part of his series, “Southern Roads/City Pavements,” which focuses on the daily lives of Black people in urban and rural communities.

In the photograph, a mother brushes the hair of her child, who is held between her legs and appears to be yelling and struggling. Another child sits on a bed, away from both of them.

Weinberg senior Bobby Yalam, a student associate at the Block, said viewers’ interpretations of the same photograph vary.

“There are these factual elements that you can identify and name, but what those mean to the viewer changes depending on how close their connections to the identity being portrayed are,” Yalam said.

The Block started hosting virtual talks about One Book collections during the pandemic and will hold additional talks related to its “Crying in H Mart” collection in Winter and Spring Quarters.

Melanie Garcia Sympson, curatorial coordinator for collections information and digital interpretation for the Block, said 50 people attended the talk. Sympson, who moderated the event, hopes virtual programming can provide a more accessible way for people to engage with the museum’s artwork.

“We could never have 50 people in the gallery looking at a photograph the size of a laptop at the same time,” Sympson said. “Even though it’s on Zoom, the conversational tone that (Ko) set created this feeling of community and warmth.”

To create their collection, Sympson and Block Academic Curator Corinne Granof selected artworks that explored similar themes as “Crying in H Mart.” Though Ko had not previously led a talk and was not familiar with Freeman’s photograph, she said she and other Block employees resonated with its various themes.

“By thinking about this artwork in relation to “Crying in H Mart,” I feel like I gained even more nuanced understandings of the book,” Ko said.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @edwardsimoncruz

Related Stories:
Photographer Rosalie Favell spotlights Indigenous artists in Block Museum exhibit
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Michelle Zauner’s ‘Crying in H Mart’ announced as 2023-24 One Book One Northwestern selection

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